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Macron says he will not force voting reforms in New Caledonia

People demonstrate as French President Emmanuel Macron's motorcade goes past in Noumea, New Caledonia, May 23, 2024.
People demonstrate as French President Emmanuel Macron's motorcade goes past in Noumea, New Caledonia, May 23, 2024.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday in New Caledonia that he would not force through any voting reforms on the Pacific territory.

The prospect of expanding voting rights in the territory sparked deadly violence last week. Six people were killed and hundreds were injured.

The president took a helicopter tour of areas devastated by the riots that broke out last week in response to the bill introduced in the French Parliament to allow French-born residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in local elections.

France’s National Assembly approved the controversial measure last week by a vote of 351-153. The bill still must be approved in a special session of both houses of Parliament next month.

Leaders of the island’s pro-independence movement say the measure would dilute the voting power of the Indigenous Kanak people, who have suffered under decades of discrimination.

Macron urged pro-independence and pro-French leaders to push for calm and help restore order as he met with local officials in the capital city of Noumea.

Macron said police reinforcements would remain in New Caledonia "as long as necessary" in response to the unrest.

France agreed in 1998 to grant New Caledonia more political power and autonomy and to hold three referendums over the island’s status. Voters have rejected independence in all three referendums.

Scores of homes and businesses have been looted and burned in Noumea, prompting authorities to impose a dusk-to-dawn curfew and a ban on public gatherings. The violence has also prompted the closure of schools and businesses, as well as the island’s airport, which left thousands of tourists unable to leave.

Groups of Kanak protesters have set up roadblocks leading in and out of Noumea, which has prevented deliveries of food and medicine to citizens and tourists trapped in their homes and resorts.

Australia and New Zealand sent planes to Noumea to evacuate their stranded citizens.

France has deployed more than 1,000 security personnel to help end the unrest.

At least 270 people have been arrested.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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